The comunità: a new form of monastic life for Australia

The comunità: a new form of monastic life for Australia

Peter Westmore

A new monastic religious community, the Comunità dei Figli di Dio (Community of the Sons and Daughters of God), founded in 1946 in Italy, has become established in Australia.

What makes the community distinctive is that it is monastic in character, and includes monks, religious and lay people, but its members live in the wider community. One of the community's seven priests, Fr Serafino Tognetti, recently visited the AD2000 office.

The comunità is committed to a contemplative life, with particular devotion to the reverent celebration of the Mass, fidelity to the teachings of the Church, prayer (including the Divine Office), and study of the Bible and the Early Fathers of the Church.

Unlike other monastic communities, its members are mainly lay people - men and women, married and single - but includes priests as well.

The comunità was originally established in Florence, and its members commit themselves to attending weekly prayer meetings, monthly one-day retreats, and an annual week of spiritual exercises.

Archbishop Pell

The comunità has no special work. Its founder, Fr Divo Barsotti, said, "Whoever we are, our life should be lived as a pure showing of God."

Last year, the Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne, Dr George Pell, along with Bishop Denis Hart, Vicar-General of the Archdiocese, and Bishop William Brennan of Wagga Wagga, visited the Mother House of the Comunità at Settignano on the outskirts of Florence. Archbishop Pell's visit was arranged by the new comunità that had been formed here in Melbourne as, prior to this, don Serafino Tognetti, Superior General of the comunità, had visited and helped to consolidate the work that had taken place in establishing the comunità in Australia.

It has also been welcomed by Pope John Paul II.

The Comunità was initially guided by priests of the Dominican and Carmelite Orders and whilst there was a move to associate the comunità with those charisms it never eventuated: the comunità was seen to be independent from these, and it was not until the young movement was offered the direction of don Divo Barsotti in 1946 that its true charism evolved. It is written in the archives that in May of that year "the Virgin" laid up for the comunità "a miraculous grace" in the appointment of this young priest and that he is the true founder of the comunità.

Don Barsotti developed a synthesis of the ideas of these traditions, but in a distinctive way, which was contemplative and monastic in character, but lived outside the monastery.

Its founder has said, "When, from the beginning of our movement, we have said that we wish to affirm the importance of contemplative values, we do not mean the contemplative life in the traditional form, in which we neither can nor even should live. For we are called to bear witness, wherever we are living, that God should be the first duty, that God is the supreme reality, living and present."

Since its formation, the comunità has grown to about 1500 members, most of whom live in Italy, with other groups established in Benin, Sri Lanka, and of course here in Australia. Here we now have 13 consecrated members with another 60 aspirants, people looking seriously at this way of life.

The Comunità has four branches: one for men and women who are consecrated, but without taking vows of poverty, chastity and obedience; a second for consecrated married lay people, who have taken these vows; a third, for unmarried lay people, who have taken these vows; and finally, those who are consecrated, with vows, living a monastic contemplative life, but not isolated from the people.

Those who are interested in learning about the comunità are called aspirants. They have no formal connection with the comunità but live in full association with it, based in the hope that as they learn more about this way of life they may enter into the consecrated state.

Its steady growth led Fr Serafino to observe, "The Holy Spirit is encouraging a new form of monastic life." The Comunità was approved "ad experimentum" in 1950, and was given formal approval in 1984.

In keeping with its character, the comunità has a particular devotion to Jesus Christ in the Mass - it insists upon liturgical piety: "In the liturgy, Christ is made present to give himself to each one, and the soul listens in a more authentic way to the divine Word; in participation in the liturgy, this divine word returns to be for the soul a creating word."

Its devotion to the proper celebration of the Mass is emphasised in the words, "The liturgical mystery is always the real presence of Christ: it is He, in fact, who prays, it is He who sacrifices Himself."

Fr Barsotti was particularly drawn to the spirituality of the great Russian, St Sergius and, in particular, to devotion to the Holy Spirit.

Millennium

The Comunità therefore recites the Canticle of St Sergius, which is a prayer to the Holy Spirit, "because he pours into our souls and becomes in us the beginning of life, making us live in a profound intimacy with God, dazzling us in his light, transforming us with grace."

The weekly meetings of the comunità are based on the program first laid down by don Barsotti and his young community. Over the years the program has been refined, but remains basically true to its monastic roots, one based deeply in the richness of the prayer life of the Church.

The annual themes, in recent years, have been based on the Pope's three year plan of preparation for the Millennium. On a monthly basis, two meetings are devoted to the study of the Bible, one deals with spiritual formation (e.g., the Catechism of the Catholic Church), and the other to prayer. Prayer, whether vocal or silent is the essential ingredient of all meetings.

People interested in knowing more about the comunità can access its Internet address: http://www.geocities.com/Wellesley/9984/guide1.html

The Australian contact is Adrian Pervan, who can be contacted on (03) 9853 0124.

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